Practice Analysis

The purpose of the practice analysis phase is to determine the factors that are contributing to the identified problem or problems. Understanding these contributing factors (or reasons) is essential if the team is to develop effective solutions. In this phase, the team reviews and discusses the processes identified and mapped in Steps 1 and 2, alongside the student-voice data gathered in Step 3, with the objective of identifying contributing factors to the outcomes gaps. By this point, the team will have likely collected additional information about practices and processes, including through the consulting of individuals who are responsible for implementing solutions.

The team identifies in this phase elements of the processes (e.g., a particular step in the advising process) or practices (e.g., a missing or individualized practice) within its control that contribute to the problems identified. For example, family income may be a contributing factor to student success, but it is outside of the control of the team.

The team forms one or more hypotheses about why the contributing factors affect the problems identified. Team members then pinpoint relationships among the contributing factors identified using a Fishbone Diagram, a Relationship Diagram, the 5W (Five Whys) method, a Cause Map or other tool. The result is a group of potential factors that appear to contribute to the identified problems. This activity is very important because the identification of solutions needs to be based on a deep understanding of factors that impede student outcomes.

Example – Fishbone Diagram Factors Influencing Student Success in a Construction Management Technology Program of Study

After identifying factors that contribute to the student-outcomes issues, the team captures relevant perspectives from various stakeholders to reach a consensus on contributing factors. The Process and Practice Assessment phase centers on gathering the student perspective to help expand and/or validate the team's hypotheses.

The team may learn more about its assumptions on root causes through the data it gathers on student focus groups. For example, a team analyzing a program with low enrollment may expect that a lack of awareness is the root problem. Systematically gathering student voices may confirm this root cause or offer alternatives.

The team may need to conduct additional research to identify contributing factors, and team members should address assumptions about the relationship between the problem and its contributing factors. To conduct additional research, the team may wish to consult the literature, review program evaluations and program reviews, conduct student focus groups, or use other methods. Results of this research should be analyzed to revise and expand on the team’s discussions.

Ultimately, the team should reach consensus on the following questions:

  • What are the contributing factors influencing the processes and practices?
  • What elements of these processes and practices affect student outcomes and equity?
  • Which contributing factors will the team address in the next phase?